The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has today called for free flu jabs for all over-50s, saying that they believe there was a ‘very real possibility of a second peak’ in Covid-19 which could bring the ‘NHS to a grinding halt’ when combined with the flu.
The RCP has also asked the Government to bring forward the normal NHS and social care workforce flu vaccination programmes, with the aim of 100 per cent of staff being protected. It also said prisons and other settings should also get a dedicated flu vaccine programme. If people are protected against the flu, and understand they are highly unlikely to get it, it would avoid them mistaking their Covid-19 symptoms for influenza.
This message was reinforced by Sir Keir Starmer on a visit to London’s University College Hospital today, who praised the NHS for ‘an incredible job’ in handling the Covid-19 crisis. The Labour leader said vaccinating an additional ten million people between the age of 50 and 65 in the UK was ‘doable’. He said: ‘We owe it to them to ensure that we take the preventive steps going into this winter. We’re calling for vaccination for all those over 50. It will be the perfect storm this winter if we had an outbreak of influenza at the same time as the possibility of a second spike in Covid-19 because the symptoms are very similar.’ He continued by saying that expanding the vaccination programme would ‘prevent the NHS from being stretched in the way they have been in the last few months’.
The Health Service Journal reports that they believe from a reliable source that: ‘The government is considering extending the vaccine to over 50s, but they will struggle to buy enough vaccines to do that. They are likely holding out on announcing it as they want to be sure they can fulfil the promise. They will also need to create a similar system to that used by the testing system, perhaps by using car parks again and doing drive-through vaccinations.’
Flu kills on average 8,000 people in England per year, and hospitalises thousands more. Those who are most vulnerable – the older generations and people with weakened immune systems – are also most at risk of severe Covid-19.